Dear Dirty America


Petty Plagiarism: BuzzFeed Might As Well Hire A Robot Writer

Petty Plagiarism: BuzzFeed Might As Well Hire A Robot Writer
July 26
00:01 2014

Why is it so pleasurable when an organization like BuzzFeed gets blasted for plagiarism? The website’s Viral News editor, Benny Johnson, is being investigated on plagiarism charges as vigilant Twitter users found many instances of the garish editor lifting passages from less-than-discreet sources like the NY Times, Yahoo! News, and The Heritage Foundation.

How do fools who dress up like colored Easter eggs get hired in our nation’s trendiest media outlets? Nobody knows. But I’ve been alerting people everywhere I go that their favorite website for all things ‘nonsense’ is a sham.

What Benny Johnson is showing us with his blatant plagiarism is that 21st century online journalism is really nothing more than a copy-and-paste endeavor. Very few people read the news these days to experience literary style and feast on the unique perspectives and use of language of a gifted writer and thinker. No, we want pared down, simple information in cute packages, similar to what folks look forward to when purchasing food at McDonald’s. Quick consumption. As long as it’s packaged correctly. As long as we can churn out a lot of it day in and day out.


Meet your new boss

BuzzFeed might as well hire a robot to write their articles. They can still paint its skin in gaudy colors to give it charisma.

Johnson’s editors were not human enough to catch the bland copied passages lurking among the original ones. At least, when the robot picks up passages from well-read news sources and uses them indiscriminately, it’ll have the sense and ability to exchange a few verbs and nouns to keep the passage fresh and out of the rotten ranks of plagiarism.

I don’t suppose this will much affect BuzzFeed’s readership. What do they care, anyway? They feel trendy while reading canned news items with a slightly irritating flare for triviality.

A girl at the local Mexican restaurant was reading a BuzzFeed article on her phone. She was sitting at an outside table, alone. I noticed the BF logo on her device as I walked by. “Watch out for plagiarized passages,” I said. “If you’re an avid NYTimes reader, you’ll drop into an unexpected cycle of deja vu and it’ll ruin your evening.”

“What?” she asked and lowered her phone. Her half-eaten burrito was torn apart on her plate.

“I applied to be an editor at BuzzFeed,” I said, “when they first were getting off the ground. Of course they didn’t call me back. Nobody even said thank you for applying. My professor said I had an outstanding CV. ‘You’re the creator of Dear Dirty America’, he said, ‘not many other people can list that on their list of accomplishments.'”

The girl tucked her phone into her pocket. She sat up a little straighter. I noticed her long brown hair had been dyed yellow at its ends. She was some kind of poor byproduct of Kim Kardashian. One hundred thousand times removed, but still proud to bear the style of the world’s most desired woman. “What?” she asked with more exasperation.

“Didn’t BuzzFeed tell you?” I asked her.

“Tell me what?”

“They should put a warning at the top of their web page that says some passages, large and small, in many articles throughout their history of digital publishing, have been tested positive for plagiarism. There is no cure for this except to forget it ever happened.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“It’s like a disease,” I told her. “When some of the nation’s trendiest writers, editors, and publications actually steal whole paragraphs from others to fluff their own meaningless work. And yet America laps it up like a dog that doesn’t know the difference between fetid pond scum and fresh water.”

“BuzzFeed plagiarizes?” she asked. “I thought only students did that.”

“Now we’re getting somewhere,” I said. “Listen, plagiarism is OK when it’s done by smart people in an intelligent manner. Ideas are fluid and free flowing and are naturally built upon, not just through writing, but even while simply thinking in the shower. You cannot possibly list all the sources for every idea you have.

“However, you’ve got to be desperate or stupid to rip off lackluster writing from mainstream publications. That’s the silly part about Benny Johnson, the editor from Buzzfeed. If you’re going to rip off another’s words, do it like Sam Pickering, the Southern humorist. He told us at a lecture in North Dakota once about how to effectively use other writers’ words without causing trouble. ‘Choose books that nobody reads!’ he said. ‘Steal from them.’ Old books, books that are not available online.”

“I kind of plagiarized in college,” the girl said, “but that’s because writing those papers was boring and a waste of time.”


“So is writing for BuzzFeed,” I said. “I plagiarize too, you know. At my website, I write articles, and now and again I’ll slip in a quote, completely lifted from someone like Charles Manson. When somebody makes good sense about something, it’s difficult for an honest man to ignore it. I don’t attribute the quote to Manson because people get nervous about things like that. Not me. I revel in wisdom from any corner of the earth, or any cell block in an American prison. Truth is truth, even if it’s embedded in a pile of batshit. You pluck out the pearl of wisdom, shine it, and offer it to the world. That’s what good, honest writing is all about. That’s what real artists do.”

“That’s interesting,” she said, although she did not express the usual characteristics of an interested person. “Maybe BuzzFeed should have hired you.”

“Certainly they would not be in the mess they are now in had they given me a chance. I would have plagiarized books like Ancient History, or the Annals of Kentucky. And you know what?” I said, pointing at her, “people like you, readers of BuzzFed, would be better off for it.”

“Feed,” she said, “It’s Feed.”

“Enjoy the rest of your burrito,” I said. “I’m glad we had this conversation.”

“It wasn’t that good,” she said.

“How much can you expect from a burrito?” I asked, walking away.

“I meant the co–” she started to say, but I was already on my way and didn’t hear the rest.

[Robot photo from Daniele Dalledonne; back of robot’s head photo from Anders Sandberg]

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